Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Cult of Conformism
 or Code of Courage?

Father John J. Lombardi

Jeremiah the prophet. St John the Baptist. Sojourner Truth. Archbishop Romero of Salvador. Mahatmas Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Archbishop Desmond Tutu. John Paul II Jesus Christ. They were all witnesses to the Truth, and some martyrs. Will you be?

"Perfect love casts out fear" (I Jn4:18 ).

The prophets above gave a shake-up-wake-up call to holiness, justice and peace. Oppositely, The Cult of Conformism constrains, but, as the prophets show, courage inflames.

So, do you accept the status quo or Jesus’ Way to go?

Recently I met a priest who is struggling with his ministry and is on temporary discharge from his duties. Thing is: He said he is remaining faithful to daily mass, prayer, service, and though it is painful not to practice in public, he said, poignantly: the crucible of suffering makes one cruciform to the Christ, and that we should always be faithful, even though we are persecuted, and never waver from the Call of the Lord Jesus. He said he knew of other priests leaving active ministry, but he could no never do that, though unjustly treated. This priest was a living witness to me of Jesus Christ of the Gospels: no cult of conformism but living the Code of Courage

In the Gospel this Sunday (St. Mt. 10:26ff) Jesus Christ talks about us disciples suffering for Him and His Kingdom, and even though our bodies may be mistreated, our souls cannot be if we are in union with our Heavenly Father: After all, think of Jesus: He challenged the Cult of Conformism of the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees and freed many of them. As He says in today’s Gospel: "Fear no one.­do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul" (Mt. 10:28). And He therefore challenged, in the great Hebraic Tradition, the mistreatment and neglect of the poor. He also pointed to His Godliness and for all this He was crucified. Therefore when speaking about persecution He knows of what He speaks.

Christ reminds us of our challenges and alternatives: fear or faith. Fear intimidates; faith inflates. Fear cuts off; faith soars aloft­sends higher both ourselves and others in the struggle and desire for Salvific Liberation

You see, we humans, Christians and Catholics get scaredy cats sometimes. In the face of challenge, turmoil or persecution we waver or back down: that’s human nature. And, to boot, there’s a Cult of Conformism­be like everyone else­materialistic, immoral, godless-whether at work, home or even spiritual places. Frederic Nietzsche, the German philosopher decried this phenomenon when he said "God is dead." One commentator said Nietzsche didn’t mean God didn’t exist but, rather, that humans have killed His "reality" in the world by conforming to the world, by rejecting the radical nature of Christ, and not being brave, courageous, challenging, and that Christianity is largely a myth propagated by many to conform to. Is this true-- of you?

Christ calls us to be different, courageous, not conformist. We need the virtue of COURAGE, which means going-beyond normal, natural boundaries of pleasure, fear and acceptance to risk doing, thinking and living differently­like all those prophets mentioned above. Courage means the rising up of the human spirit and synergizing with the Holy Spirit to witness the Faith­we cannot do it alone­we’re scaredy cats sometimes. Therefore Jesus Christ will help us, as He says :" So do not be afraid…everyone who acknowledges Me before others I will acknowledge before My Heavenly Father" (Mt. 10:32).

So there is a cost to discipleship. Another friend I recently visited with is now taking care of his elderly mother full time. Thing is: instead of giving her to someone or something else, he himself retired from his job, as did his wife, and now, amidst challenges they are caring for her. He said in our culture there is a lust for pleasure and that we sometimes are afraid to sacrifice or take up our cross. He said, frankly: ""I don’t ‘do’ pain well." Actually, he does­elegantly, nobly, as he is not conforming to contstraints of pleasure and convenience, and even amidst heckling of some others, is exhibiting courageousness. I also recnetly talked to a soldier who said he is looking for more courage amidst our Catholic leaders, and who said he needs that inspiration against family attacks, unborn babies, and sexual license. These Catholic leaders, like himself--a commander, are called to direct as is their vocation. This soldier mentioned how inspired he was by Archbishop O’Brien of Baltimore who recently wrote a letter to Catholic Governor Martin O’Malley, and asked all Catholic parishes to read a statement for traditional marriage and against false forms of it, like same sex marriage. The soldier was obviously impressed by the assertive stance of the Archbishop in a Culture of Conformism, and asked: where are more people like this to defend the Holy Catholic church?

Christ is our Liberator: He frees us from sin,hell and death and conformism. Think of saintly souls who have followed the Lord’s Call to Courage against the conformism of sin: St Augustine once embraced lust big time, and then erased lust in his life and became a saintly teacher-so can you. Some African American Christians recently demonstrated against Planned Parenthood (which receives $300 million of our tax money) for their practices of abortion and focusing on inner cities and minority mothers: you can overcome conformism to this sin, too. Martin Luther King challenged the conformism of racism in our country and so can you liberate others thru harmony. Also think of Sr. Dorothy Stang who challenged the land grabbers and back stabbers of the poor in the Amazon and was eventually killed herself: will you stand up for the poor? Remember: containers of conformism constrain; courage inflames. Think of a Catholic group who recently placed two full page ads in the New York Times challenging same-sex marriage--homosexuals included, and yet courageously defend marriage as God designed it? And ponder Pope Benedict who challenges relativism­which preach there are no absolute truths, moral relativism of our times­and who is mocked by various intelligentsia? Think of challenging the conformism of sinlessness, almost anything goes and ensuing enslavements that come along with this, and of Pope Pius who said in the 1900’s "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin." Do you have that courage at your work, church and playgrounds? Think of the pursuit of pleasure rampaging our country and an almost-anything-goes-mentality, and the courage of Mother Teresa to embrace radical poverty and feed the poorest of the poor­because she is not constrained and restrained by earthly riches. Think, too, of the cult of happiness­that here in the USofA it’s a seeming "right"­and also the cult of self(ishness), and yet recall St Bernadette who saw the blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes, and heard that her happiness was not in this life but in the next: that’s non-conformism to the max. Next, think of the cult of conformism of busybodyism, instant gratification and, alternatively, St John of the Cross who fathomed the depths of the soul, embraced inner purification and still prayed, contemplated precisely because he could accept the darkness, abandonment and God’s mystery­and become a saint.

All these lives exemplify courage, adventure, radical trust in God and Great Love!. In the First reading and the prophet Jeremiah we see this, a guy who 600 years before Christ was not constrained but inflamed against bad Temple-Jewish practices; idol worship and faithlessness toward the Covenant. He challenged the relationship of the Jews to God-Yahweh and was thrown in a cistern­so what makes you think you’ll be treated any better? St Paul in the Romans reading illustrates the responses: in the Sacrificial atonement of the Cross (and Mass, by extension) we have a kinda "Waterfalls of Blood"­"The gracious gift of the One Person Jesus Christ overflow for the many" -Rm. 5:15).

Now think of three famous people who challenged systems and people. Beethoven the Catholic was not constrained by classical containers of music, as great as they were but boldly adventured into the new form he prophetically amalgamated called romaticism and gave us the grand piano concertos, the Moonlight Sonata and the passionate Ninth choral symphony. Think of Albert Einstein who eschewed Newtonian physicals and gave us the theory of relativity­ everything is related to everything else and interdependent. Think of Pope John Paul II who de-constrained from legalism and the past and gave us a perosnalism in sexuality and marriage and family and social life where by it’s not only about rules and commandments but about a dignifying godly relationship. All these had spines, backbones and love­do you?

One time a guy went to Africa, and said when he arrived he didn’t’ wanna stay because of the challenges, and worked with AIDS patients, street kids and orphans, and then returned gave a talk on his journey. He challenged the student-listeners to climb out of comfort zones and embrace God’s calling in new, different and sometimes dizzying ways­and you will be surprised­and filled.

Jesus and the prophets of courage challenge us out of our suffocating silos and containers to boil over, rise up and adventure forth so as to save souls and the dignity of humanity. Courage or conformism-which are you choosing?

Now think about this: "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it." -Albert Einstein.

And, remember what Jesus said: "Fear no one."

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi